Barack Obama: Symbol of the Status Quo

A new hope? Or more of the same?
A new hope? Or more of the same?

Status quo is Latin for “the mess we’re in.” I had hoped that Sen. Barack Obama’s oft-reiterated commitment to change would extend to changing the way Congress works, so I was disappointed to read about his views on term limits.

“I’m generally not in favor of term limits. Nobody is term-limiting the lobbyists or the slick operators walking around the halls of Congress. I believe in one form of term limits. They’re called elections,” Obama said while campaigning last week in Ohio. (Full story here)

This response obscures the fact that “the lobbyists and the slick operators” that you see in every legislature in America are typically the biggest opponents of term limits.

Lobbyists routinely bankroll campaigns to oppose or dilute term limits, perhaps because they want to protect some of the most valuable property they own: the relationships they have built over time with politicians. Term limits upset this applecart by making room for new elected officials with new ideas.

Congressional incumbents typically get reelected over 96 percent of the time, although in 2006 the percentage dropped to 94 percent. I guess this is an improvement over the 1980s, when the figure for reelection of state and federal legislators, so long as they were not the subject of criminal indictments, was over 99 percent.

Could it be true that the many advantages that incumbents write into law for themselves, such as the 2002 “campaign finance reform” that criminalized independent television commercials which criticize incumbents, have something to do with their sky-high reelection rates?

In the 1990s, I published a paper on federal term limits while an analyst at the Heritage Foundation; more recently, I published a paper on Arkansas term limits with the Arkansas Policy Foundation. I favor term limits, as does a large majority of the public. For some reason, many politicians don’t.

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